West Lothian Council budget ‘firmly based on the needs of residents’

Have West Lothian Council found the right balance?
Have West Lothian Council found the right balance?

West Lothian Council will invest £381 million in key services such as schools, social care services and roads in its revenue budget for 2015/16.

At a meeting of the full council last week, the executive moved to set out a three year strategy which will enable the local authority to plan ahead and meet a significant budget shortfall of £29.544 million over the next three years.

It is a result of the Scottish Government grant being insufficient to meet the estimated growth in council expenditure.

Some charges which the council makes for its services have also been agreed and will play a significant part in enabling it to meet its budget shortfall and protect services.

The majority of discretionary charges will increase by 3.5 per cent per annum. There will be a three per cent increase to sheltered housing rents, five per cent increase in synthetic pitch charges, a one pence increase to school milk in the years 2016/17 and a five per cent annual increase for the sale of cemeteries and interment fees to bring them more in line with other councils’ charges.

John McGinty, leader of West Lothian Council, said: “Next year, we’ll spend over £137.5 million on schools, over £90 million on social care services and £57.5 million on improving West Lothian’s roads, paths, waste services, facilities management and infrastructure.

“The council will continue to invest in the future and ensure that we deliver quality, efficient and valuable services for the people of West Lothian, including the most vulnerable members of our society.

“In setting this budget we have sought to find a balance to ensure that we bridge our significant budget gap while ensuring that the money we do have is spent on services that matter most to local people and have the greatest positive impact on the families and communities of West Lothian.

“The successful 2014 Delivering Better Outcomes Consultation was an important step in the council’s strategy to tackle the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

“We have analysed and listened to more than 40,000 comments and suggestions and the feedback we received is reflected within the council’s budget.

“The budget is firmly based upon the needs of our residents.”

The council also agreed an updated capital programme for 2015/16 totalling £194 million. It has announced it intends to prioritise funding for education, social care and the vulnerable in the community while making necessary savings for the future.

Audit Scotland highlighted recently that West Lothian Council currently had the lowest income from sales, fees and charges per head of population of any of the 32 Scottish local authorities.

The council’s chief executive Graham Hope said: “We have carried out a significant amount of consultation with local residents, with tens of thousands of comments and suggestions being put forward.

“The feedback received was very positive and the majority of people who took part in our consultation were in favour of the council looking at ways of generating extra revenue as an alternative to reducing or closing services.”

Here’s where the changes are likely to take place – are you affected?

The council intends to modernise support functions and review financial systems and processes such as cash collection and payment methods.

It will also review nursery school provision by prioritising council nursery places and reducing the number provided by partner providers.

Refuse collections over seven days a week will be introduced, along with revised waste collection routes.

The public transport policy will be reviewed along with services, including subsidised bus and taxi bus services, dial a ride and dial a bus services and the taxi-card service.

There will be a reduction in internal vehicle costs.

The council’s commercial property portfolio will be reviewed including increased fees and charges, rent reviews, lease renewals, management fees and rental opportunities.

There will be greater use of home technology and re-ablement to reduce hospital admissions and care home placements.

Offices and community buildings will be consolidated and streamlined where possible.

Internal services, such as the community safety unit, noise team and environmental health, will be integrated.

There will be revised working patterns for bulky uplift services to reflect demand.

Commercial trade waste charges will be increased in order to recover the full cost of landfill and waste disposal costs.

It is estimated that there will be a net reduction in posts of 222 full-time employees over three years. It is anticipated that this will be met by retirement, voluntary severance and a review of fixed term contracts. The council has a no compulsory redundancy position.

Feedback from the 2014 Delivering Better Outcomes consultation was that 67 per cent of respondents were in favour of looking at ways of generating extra revenue rather than reducing services.